Remembering the Crusades: Myth, Image and Identity

28th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies

Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 29-30, 2008

Maureen Quigley, Romancing the (Very Recent) Past: Reality, Fantasy, and Crusade Manuscripts at the Court of Philip VI of Valois

            From 1331-1337, King Philip VI of Valois (1328-1350) planned a crusade to the Holy Land in the tradition of his illustrious predecessors.  Declaring a crusade project was nothing new among the successors of the most recent crusader king, St. Louis IX, yet by the time of Philip VI’s reign, crusading outside of Europe as a practical military exercise was increasingly distant to members of the court.  In other words, what had been a personally remembered experience of foreign lands and foreign peoples just a generation or two before, was now the realm of nostalgia.

            When attempting to define the crusade at the court of Philip VI, the conflation of nostalgia, literary romance, and practical military advice is made evident through a series of illuminated manuscripts created in Paris in the mid- to late- 1330s. My current research is focused on identifying illuminated programs associated with the crusading culture at Philip VI’s court. To date, I have examined the new luxury copies of the chronicles of William of Tyre (BnF ms. fr. 22495 and BnF ms. fr. 24209), the crusading cycles in the Grandes chroniques de France (BL Royal ms. 16 G VI), the Mahiet copy of the Life of St. Louis by Jean de Joinville (BnF ms. fr. 13568), and the Life and Miracles of St. Louis by Guillaume de St-Pathus (BnF ms. fr. 5716), Guido da Vigevano’s Texaurus Regis francie acquisitionis Terre Sancte (BnF ms. fr. 11015), and finally the crusade compilation in BL Royal ms. 19 D I.  Created by only a few of the finest artists working in Paris and, often, directly for the court, these manuscripts seemingly display an intentional development of crusading imagery.

            Rather than simply listing these manuscripts, however, I propose to address the issues of romance and fantasy regarding what should be a recently remembered past.  With themes of exotic foreign travel and battle, historically remembered crusades and crusaders, and contemporary practical military advice, these manuscripts and their illuminated programs served to make concrete a somewhat tenuous concept of “crusading” to a new generation.  This is a moment when our postmodern views of romance and reality may be made clear in contemporary fourteenth-century form.  As I will show, without seeming self-awareness, “Crusade” is defined as fantasy, historical reality, and contemporary action by the illuminators and compilers themselves through choice of text and through choice of illuminated program.


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